August 2014 Issue of Wines & Vines

Massachusetts Approves DtC Law, Opens State to Wine Shipping

by Andrew Adams

Boston, Mass.—With persistent political and legal pressure and a little celebrity stardust from a former NFL quarterback, efforts to open Massachusetts to wine shipping paid off July 11, when Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a state budget that includes a provision allowing direct shipments of wine to residents.

The new law opens one of the United States’ largest wine markets to direct-to-consumer shipments. Steve Gross, vice president of state relations at the San Francisco, Calif.-based Wine Institute, said Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have been the two largest states to prohibit direct shipments. “We’re delighted to check one of those off the list,” Gross said.

He said the new law means more than 92% of the U.S. population can now purchase wine and have it shipped directly to their home. “It’s very satisfying because this state has been in limbo for a long time,” Gross said. Only bonded wineries will be able to apply for a direct-shipping permit, which costs $300 and $150 to renew. Consumers are limited to a dozen 9-liter cases per year. The Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Control Commission will be developing the permit application process in the next six months.

Gross credited the lobbying efforts of former quarterback Drew Bledsoe as key to getting wine shipping through the state legislature in 2013. Bledsoe played with the New England Patriots from 1993 to 2001 and then with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys before retiring in 2007. Speaking with Wines & Vines, Bledsoe said he was happy to help a cause he said would be beneficial to the wine industry, consumers and the state of Massachusetts.

He said he spent a few days meeting with lawmakers and doing press interviews to build momentum for a direct-shipping law to pass. “I actually was a registered lobbyist—my only true foray into politics, and probably my last.”

In 2006, Massachusetts lawmakers overrode a veto by then-Gov. Mitt Romney to pass a bill that essentially prohibited DtC shipments to residents. While this allowed Massachusetts wineries to sell direct to customers, it placed onerous burdens on out-of-state wineries, making DtC sales nearly impossible.

Gross said wholesalers and retail wine and liquor stores made a concerted effort to block any legislation that would open Massachusetts to more direct shipping. The Family Winemakers of California filed a lawsuit the same year arguing the law violated the “Commerce Clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

In 2008, a Massachusetts judge ruled in favor of the Family Winemakers, and that decision was later upheld by a 2010 ruling of the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Following the court decision, a DtC bill died in the state’s legislature in 2012, a year later a law made it through the state House and Senate and into the budget bill.

Gross also credited Jeremy Benson and his team with Free the Grapes! for getting the issue publicity and helping to convince state lawmakers to move a bill forward. He also said Massachusetts residents eventually grew fed up with not having the DtC option. “Ultimately it was Massachusetts consumers that have been looking for this for a long time.”

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